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25th March 2019 5 min read

Interview: Tech for Good Dublin

Categories — Interviews

To kick off our spanking new interview series, ‘Changing the world one click at a time’, we’re excited to start with Ellen Ward, co-founder of Tech for Good Dublin - a Meetup group with a core belief that technology can be utilised to have a positive impact on people, communities and our planet. The collective is celebrating its second birthday this month.

The term ‘Tech for Good’ was coined 10 years ago in the UK by Paul Miller, a CEO at Bethnal Green Ventures in London. The original concept was based around web developers coming together with organisations and companies to hack solutions to social problems. Tech for Good is now a worldwide movement spanning a multitude of industries and a myriad of causes.

Ellen, what was the impetus for Tech for Good Dublin?

In February 2017, Elijah van der Giessen, a member of Tech Soup Global tagged me and Máirín Murray proposing a discussion around Tech for Good in Dublin. Excited by the idea and keen to use the momentum, Máirín and I met for coffee soon after. After a successful meeting and an agreement to do some research, we discovered there’s a lot happening in Dublin that’s contributing to a global movement for change. And suddenly it’s like we blinked and we’re one year in, with 1500 members.

People attending our events are a broad range of ages and nationalities and at least half are women. We always ensure speakers at our events are an equal mix of males and females. Everybody’s welcome – technical and non-technical. You don’t have to be a computer scientist to make a difference. We are finding the diversity is driving output and collaborations above and beyond anything we could have hoped for.

What are you trying to achieve?

Originally we didn’t set an agenda. We believe in taking a philosophical and ethical view and considering both positive and negative impacts of technology on people, communities and planet. When it is not possible to consider all people at once, then the most vulnerable, disenfranchised or excluded people should be considered as a priority.

We want to hear the voices of as many people as possible, within and beyond our group. We care about unheard voices and disconnected groups and will seek them out.

We believe that people matter and our human rights must be protected amid accelerating technology innovation. Transparency about the treatment of our personal data and terms and conditions is vital. We believe that individuals should not be treated as commodities or be deceived or controlled by technology. Tech for Good is inclusive, mindful of day to day problems in all aspects of our society whether working with children, adults or communities.

As an umbrella framework, Tech for Good works quite well. We are constantly revisiting the topics that we are interested in. It’s a grassroots movement, people-led, not for profit, not for a company or a government. Topics can be explored in groups and individually. The big topics, such as Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, are broken down into accessible information so people gain knowledge and feel more empowered by technology.

Do you have a favourite project?

There have been so many exciting projects and topics covered in the first year! One of my favourite themes was apps for people who care about reducing waste. Two ideas from that session  were :

  1. An app called Nu Wardrobe presented by the founder Aisling Byrne.
    The Nu Wardrobe is bringing the sharing economy to fashion by creating an online wardrobe for people to share and swap their clothes with friends and other Nu users.
  2. An online platform Thriftify presented by CTO Rahil Nazir.
    Every year millions of books are donated to charity shops, but finding out how much these books are worth can be a real challenge for charities. This platform uses live information from online retailers to automatically value, price and upload books for sale, enabling charities across the UK and Ireland to increase their earnings.

We’ve also held some talks based around smart cities, looking specifically at how cycling can be made safer. We explored how we can collect data using IoT to research the best way to adapt our city over time, for it to become more accessible to public transport for the cyclists. Anything that can be done to help long-term planning for large cities is key.

We also looked at artificial intelligence and virtual reality in relation to mental health. Our guest speaker, Dr. David Trainor, CEO and CTO of Sentireal, discussed ways to create and deliver personalised VR content to address mental health issues that can lead to depression, self-harm, and suicide.

Our Engineer in Residence, Andy O’Sullivan, ran a great session on app development last year. Andy works for the innovation team in Liberty IT. He is the creator of  appsandbiscuits.com, a website for beginners’ app development. In 2016 he released Simon’s Green Army, an app for Irish football fans going to the Euros, and to advocate for the Dublin Simon Community.

Would you say that the Tech for Good Dublin is having a direct positive impact on the people who participate?

Absolutely. We held brainstorming sessions with members of Men’s Sheds about integrating technology to solve some of the problems they were encountering. We extracted 3 challenges and posed them to our members who workshopped possible solutions. These were then presented back to the management of Men’s Sheds for consideration.

We are also noticing that attendees bring inspiration and viable solutions back to their own employers. If they are students, some consider diversifying into new career avenues as a result of the ideas shared at our meets.

What’s great about Tech for Good is that when you come to one of our MeetUps, you are guaranteed to hear something that will make you feel positive and inspired to bring change in your own way.

These are all things that ordinary people are doing without big budgets to resolve issues and help others in the community.

What’s your vision for the future?

Dublin is not the biggest city, but we do have access to so much in terms of tech companies, entrepreneurs, startups, community development and just overall wealth of cool people who have exciting ideas.

I would love Tech for Good Dublin to become a showcase for similar ventures  We have a strong commitment to shine a light on the positive impact of technology in Dublin and Ireland. We wish to inspire other cities by showing them what ordinary people are doing here and how they are influencing the trajectory of different products and services.

People in Dublin are informing themselves and getting engaged, volunteering and doing meaningful work that is not political or business-oriented but is grounded at the community level.

We want to encourage everyone to get more involved as individuals – building momentum as a collective voice and having a say in how technology evolves over the next few years.


If you are curious to know more:

Website: http://techforgooddublin.org/
Join the MeetUp: https://www.meetup.com/TechForGood-Dublin/
Twitter: @Tech4GoodDublin

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